New York Giants Plan: Good Strategy, Poor Implementation
When free agency and the salary cap were first implemented in the NFL, it took many people a long time to understand the strategy of the Giants’ front office. To the fans and the press, the Giants were merely being stingy or old school by not embracing free agency. There seemed to be no plan. One after the other, great names from the 1990 Championship team were departing and were not being replaced adequately by new free agents. However, it is important to understand that the Giants hit free agency with a high-priced, declining team. The “impact players” on the team were nearing the end of the line. Bill Parcells knew what he was doing when he left the Giants. He understood the Giants were on the verge of a big rebuilding program and he didn’t want to be around when it happened.
Stage One: The Giants’ front office allowed free agency to do its dirty work for it by removing the older, declining players from the roster. Incidentally, with a few exceptions, this tactic seems justified by the lack of production from these players once they left the team. The 1990 Giants were also a highly paid team. The only way to shed these high salaries and have some cap flexibility was also to let these older, higher priced players go. The Giants tried to remain competitive, but rebuilding is never easy and often ugly. The losses began to mount.
Stage Two: Meanwhile, the front office began to implement stage two. Stage two involved the drafting of new talent in order to replenish the talent base on the team. Just like the the rebuilding process that General Manager George Young orchestrated between 1979 and 1983, the Giants had to start all over again. Even despite free agency, the draft remained the most important mechanism to acquire talent. Why? Because draft picks are cheaper than free agents and generally of higher quality. NFL teams rarely let their best talent get away. What is left is often not of better quality than one already has, and what’s worse, is far, far more expensive. If there was no salary cap, this would not be an issue, but it is. For example, look at OG Ron Stone, an average player who the coaches feel could become special. However, to pry him away from Dallas, the Giants had to pay him roughly $2 million per year — that’s a big chunk of the cap.
Stage Three: Stage three involved making sure that the quality players drafted by the Giants remained with the team. Instead of spending salary cap room on free agents of average quality, the Giants spent the money on their own good players. This strategy had the added benefit of increasing team chemistry and esprit de corps. If the Giants had spent more freely in the free agent market, they would have been far less likely to be able to keep players such as Way, Sehorn, and Strahan.
What Has Gone Right?: This strategy has partly succeeded. The Giants have indeed acquired a number of young, talented ball players who will only improve as they mature. Just as importantly, the Giants have been successful in re-signing most of these key players to long-term deals. Examples include Charles Way, Brian Williams, Keith Hamilton, Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, Phillippi Sparks, and Jason Sehorn. These players form a solid foundation to build around.
What Has Gone Wrong?: The Giants’ front office has failed in three areas: (1) their recent drafting history has been spotty at best, (2) they have misjudged some of the talent on the team and consequently overpaid some players, and (3) the poisonous atmosphere between management and Dan Reeves was allowed to fester too long.
The Draft: Let’s take a look at the Giants’ drafts from 1992 to 1996. Keep in mind that drafting is an art, not a science. One can measure height, weight, strength, and speed, but one cannot always measure heart, potential, and intangibles. One player who was extremely productive in college may fail miserably in the pros and visa versa. Injuries can also become a factor. Below I will list the players selected by the Giants during this time period. I will also provide a very brief status report on that player as well as a listing of the next ten players taken by other teams after the Giants’ first round pick and players who the Giants mistakenly let slip through their fingers.
1. TE Derek Brown – Bust. Could never beat out Howard Cross.
2. CB Phillippi – Sparks First round talent. Potential Pro Bowler.
3. TE Aaron Pierce – Has not been productive. Time is running out.
4. DT Keith Hamilton – First round talent who is finally playing like it.
5. CB Michael Wright – Bust.
6. DT Stacey Dilliard – Journeyman who is still bouncing around the league.
7. LB Corey Widmer – Solid player and good pick for the 7th round.
8. QB Kent Graham – Solid player who now starts for Arizona.
9. S Anthony Prior – Bust.
10. DT George Rooks – Bust.
11. WR Nate Singleton – Journeyman who is still bouncing around the league.
12. WR Charles Swann – Journeyman who bounced around the league for a few years.
Overview: Outstanding picks in rounds 2, 4, and 7. Bad picks in rounds 1, 3, and 5. If Derek Brown had turned out to be the player everyone thought he would become, this would have been a good draft. Only four players from this draft are still with the team.
Next Ten: The next ten players taken after Derek Brown were TE Johnny Mitchell, DT Chester McGlockton, CB Kevin Smith, S Dana Hall, RB Tony Smith, CB Dale Carter, RB Vaughn Dunbar, DE Alonzo Spellman, DL Chris Mims, and MLB Robert Jones.
Hindsight: McGlockton, Smith, Carter, and Spellman would have been good choices. Carl Pickens or Darren Woodson, both taken in round two, would have helped matters. QB Brad Johnson was taken in the 9th round.
1. QB Dave Brown – 1992 Supplemental pick. Has not been productive. Looks like a bust due to wear and tear.
2. DE Michael Strahan – Outstanding selection. Potential Pro Bowler.
3. OLB Marcus Buckley – Has not been productive. Back-up.
4. OT Greg Bishop – Journeyman starting at left guard.
5. LB Tommy Thigpen – Bust.
6. OG Scott Davis – Journeyman now playing in Atlanta.
7. PK Todd Peterson – Decent player who is now playing in Seattle.
8. OLB Jessie Armstead – Outstanding pick. Potential Pro Bowler.
Overview: Great picks in rounds 2 and 8. Very disappointing picks in rounds 1, 3, 4, and 5. Once again, if the first rounder pans out, this turns into a darn good effort because of Strahan and Armstead. Five of the players from this draft are still with the team.
Next Ten: After Dave Brown, the next ten selected were OT Lincoln Kennedy, RB Jerome Bettis, DL Dan Williams, S Patrick Bates, OL Brad Hopkins, OC Steve Everitt, OLB Wayne Simmons, WR Sean Dawkins, CB Tom Carter, and OL Ernest Dye.
Hindsight: Steve Everitt is a good player, but we already had Brian Williams. Aside form Dana Stubblefield, no other player from this draft sticks out in round one. DT Gilbert Brown was taken by the Vikings late in round three and later cut. QB Mark Brunell and HB Adrian Murrell lasted until the 5th round.
1. WR Thomas Lewis – Has not been productive or healthy. Looks like a bust.
2a. CB Thomas Randolph – Decent player. Nothing special.
2b. CB Jason Sehorn – Outstanding pick. Potential Pro Bowler.
3. RB Gary Downs – Journeyman now playing in Atlanta.
4. DT Chris Maumalanga – Bust.
5. DE Chad Bratzke – Solid selection. Starts at right end.
6. OG Jason Winrow – Had promise but forced to retire due to injury.
Overview: Good picks in rounds 2a, 2b, and 5, though one would like more productivity and impact from Randolph. Bad picks in rounds 1, 3, and 4. Once again, the first round pick hurts the Giants in this draft, as does another blown 3rd and 4th rounder. Four players taken in this draft are still with the team.
Next Ten: After Lewis, RB Greg Hill, DL Henry Ford, DB Jeff Burris, FB William Floyd, WR Derrick Alexander, WE Darnay Scott, OG Tre Johnson, OL Eric Mahlum, WR Isaac Bruce, and RB Errict Rhett.
Hindsight: Bruce would have been a great pick. Alexander and Scott have been far more productive than Lewis. Johnson would look good at left guard for us right about now. How about Larry Allen who was taken in the middle of round two?
1. HB Tyrone Wheatley – Has looked good when he has played and stayed healthy.
2. RT Scott Gragg – Developing player who has struggled. How good will he get?
3. SS Rodney Young – Has not been able to crack the lineup, but looked good in the preseason.
4a. FS Tito Wooten – 1994 supplemental pick. Starter who continues to get better.
4b. OG Rob Zatechka – Slow-footed guard may be as good as he gets.
5. CB Roderick Mullen – Decent player who is now playing with Green Bay.
6a. DE Jamal Duff – Decent player who is now playing with Washington.
6b. FB Charles Way – Outstanding selection. Potential Pro Bowler.
7. P Bryne Diehl – Unable to beat out Mike Horan.
Overview: Initially, this looked like a good effort. But now who knows? Wheatley still has a chance as does Gragg, but neither has been particularly productive. Young and Zatechka are back-ups who probably will never start (another 3rd and 4th rounder wasted). Value-wise, Mullen and Duff were good picks but they now play for other teams. Way and Wooten are were good picks, but much depends on Wheatley and Gragg. Six players taken in this draft remain with the team.
Next Ten: After Wheatley, HB Napolean Kaufman, HB James Stewart, DL Luther Elliss, HB Rashaan Salaam, CB Tyrone Poole, CB Ty Law, RT Korey Stringer, OL Billy Milner, DB Devin Bush, and TE Mark Bruener.
Hindsight: Kaufman, Stringer, and Bruener would have helped us if Wheatley doesn’t pan out. Stringer is the guy George Young wanted. Poole is a very good player but we are set at corner. If Gragg doesn’t pan out, the Giants passed on such guys as MLB Ted Johnson and QB Kordell Stewart in round two. Every team really screwed up by passing on HB Curtis Martin (3rd round) and HB Terrell Davis (6th round).
1. DE Cedric Jones – Has not been productive or healthy.
2. WR Amani Toomer - Has not been productive or hard working at wide receiver.
3. LT Roman Oben – Starting at left tackle in his second year and doing fine.
4. QB Danny Kanell – May now be the Giants’ quarterback of the future. Stay tuned.
6a. MLB Doug Colman - Solid selection. Good back-up and special teams player.
6b. OLB Scott Galyon – Solid selection. Giants’ nickel backer.
7. CB Conrad Hamilton – Solid selection. Quality back-up cornerback.
Overview: Although it is early, it looks like the Giants made good picks in rounds 3, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, and 7. Even if Kanell isn’t the eventual starter, quality back-up quarterbacks are hard to find. So much depends on Jones and Toomer. Jones has to regain his quick, first step and Toomer needs to understand that football is a profession, not a hobby. All seven picks still remain with the team.
Hindsight: After Jones, HB Lawrence Phillips, WR Terry Glenn, HB Tim Biakabutuka, TE Rickey Dudley, OT Willie Anderson, CB Alex Molden, DE Regan Upshaw, CB Walt Harris, HB Eddie George, and OLB John Mobley.
Hindsight:If Jones doesn’t pan out, the Giants really blew it bigtime here. How good would Glenn, George, or Mobley look in Giant blue? What about WR Eddie Kennison, WR Marvin Harrison, or DE Tony Brackens?
Draft Review: What really stood out while researching these five drafts were two things: (1) almost all teams really wasted a lot of picks, and (2) the Giants were one of those teams. I was actually surprised that I couldn’t find more big names for the hindsight section. A lot of NFL teams, including the “good teams” such as Green Bay, Dallas, and the 49ers, have not been too successful in evaluating collegiate prospects, including in the first round. However, if the Giants expect to become one of the better teams in the league, they must do a better job than the rest of the league in the draft process. It is as simple as that.
Most Giant fans know that the team has not done well in the first round. Derek Brown, Dave Brown, and Thomas Lewis all look like busts. The jury is still out on Tyrone Wheatley and Cedric Jones, but they certainly have not been productive players in the NFL to-date. Sure there may be extenuating circumstances with most of these players, but the simple truth is that the Giants are not getting appropriate value for these selections. First round draft picks are also expensive and take up a lot of salary cap room. Thus, poor first round selections have proven to be a double-edged sword in the era of the salary cap.
However, the Giants’ draft day letdowns are not limited to the first round. While the Giants have pulled out some gems in latter rounds like Jessie Armstead and Charles Way, they have also missed badly in rounds three and four. Roman Oben was a good 3rd round pick, but were Aaron Pierce, Marcus Buckley, Gary Downs, or Rodney Young? Keith Hamilton and Danny Kanell were good 4th round selections, but were Greg Bishop, Chris Maumalanga, or Rob Zatechka? The Giants seem to do quite well in round two (Sparks, Strahan, Sehorn, and Randolph), though the jury is still out on Scott Gragg and Amani Toomer. A team that is building through the draft cannot afford to keep firing blanks in premium rounds such as the first, third, and fourth. This has proven to be the heart of the front office’s shortcomings. Late round “gems” cannot compensate.
Hindsight is fun, but it is not very realistic. The truth of the matter is that every team in the league wishes it could go back in time and re-do almost all of their selections. Nevertheless, instead of Derek Brown, Dave Brown, Thomas Lewis, Tyrone Wheatley, and Cedric Jones, the Giants first round picks of the last five years could have been Darren Woodson, Dana Stubblefield, Larry Allen, Kory Stringer, and Terry Glenn. Throw in Mark Brunell and Terrell Davis or Curtis Martin in later rounds. Hindsight is painful, isn’t it?
Overpayment of Some Players: The salary cap is a beast. It tears good teams apart and prevents bad teams from acquiring better talent. The salary cap disrupts team unity and player loyalty and is thus bad for the game. The Giants have done a good job in recent years of keeping their young and up-and-coming players on the team. The Giants’ roster is filled with some good players who will probably play their whole career with the Giants. That’s practically unheard of in the NFL today. However, re-signing players to longer-term deals also has a downside. If the Giants’ front office and coaching staff misjudge the potential talent of a player, a significant chunk of the salary cap could be wasted. Based on their level of production and/or playing time, the following current Giants must be considered to be overpaid:
- QB Dave Brown ($2,251,700)
- OLB Corey Miller ($1,600,000)
- TE Aaron Pierce ($1,283,300)
- TE Howard Cross ($1,115,700)
- HB Rodney Hampton ($1,350,000)
- DE Cedric Jones ($1,667,800)
- HB Tyrone Wheatley ($947,000)
- WR Thomas Lewis ($793,900)
- OG Greg Bishop ($716,100)
- WR Amani Toomer ($492,000)
- OLB Marcus Buckley ($375,300)
Note: Salary figure provided is the player’s 1996 total cap figure — the last, most accurate data available to this writer.
Note: One could also argue that players such as OG Ron Stone and DT Robert Harris are being overpaid, but these two players were protected free agents and the Giants had to spend more money than they would have liked to in order to pry them away from their respective teams. Regardless, the current Giant coaching staff is excited about the potential of both.
As one can see, failures in the drafting process have also resulted in failures in the cap arena. As draft picks are “slotted” into particular salary ranges, the Giants were “forced” to pay players such as Cedric Jones, Tyrone Wheatley, and Thomas Lewis big contracts. Now Wheatley and Jones may one day earn their money, but as it stands now, they are dramatically overpaid. The system, as much as the Giants’ front office, is to blame here. Nevertheless, “the system” did not force the Giants to extend the contracts or re-sign such players as Dave Brown, Aaron Pierce, and Greg Bishop. Simply stated, the Giants screwed up. They expected these players to be better than they turned out to be. Not only did the front office misjudge them in the drafting process, but they misjudged them once again after these players had already been with the team for a few years. Much of this undoubtably had to do with the state of conflict and lack of communication between the Dan Reeves’ regime and the Giants’ front office. Hopefully, the much more cooperative relationship with Jim Fassel will help matters here. Needless to say, the money being “wasted” on most of the players mentioned above could best be spent elsewhere.
Management-Coaching Relations: A front office and a coaching staff have to be on the same page. If the personnel department acquires good talent, but that talent doesn’t fit the head coach’s system, then the whole team will suffer. However, what happened under Dan Reeves was even worse. Reeves was so upset about how the Giants’ operation worked that he allowed his anger to affect his on-the-field decisions and off-the-field comments. Before Reeves was hired, the division of labor was explained to him and he said he would accept it: coaches coach, managers manage, and players play. Reeves abided by these rules in 1993, but quickly changed his tune in 1994 after tasting success the year before. He began to openly question personnel moves even though he had much influence in free agency. He also began to publicly humiliate such players as David Brown, Tyrone Wheatley, and Cedric Jones, more for spite than any other reason. The fact of the matter is that Reeves wanted to run the whole show. He wanted to break the contract which was established with the front office.
Where the Giants’ front office was in error is that they allowed this situation to fester too long. Reeves should have be fired after the 1995 season. Reeves wanted to leave but he didn’t want to quit because he would have lost a million dollars in salary. George Young wanted Reeves gone, but it is rumored that co-owner Robert Tisch did not want to pay Reeves if he was fired. (The Giants would have had to honor their contract if they fired him, but not if Reeves quit). You have to blame ownership more than the front office if this is true, but George Young should have threatened to resign if Reeves was not let go. Anyone with any degree of foresight knew that Reeves was a lame duck. By keeping Reeves on, an entire year was wasted. Jim Fassel could have been hired last year and this whole rebuilding process could have been that much more advanced. As already mentioned, the lack of communication and cooperation that existed between the previous coaching staff and management also served to create more of a financial mess with the salary cap as management could not be sure of the quality of the players it had. In any line of work, that’s bad business.
Summary: The good news is that all of these problems are correctable. Jim Fassel seems to have a very good working relationship with the front office. The 1997 draft which produced four rookie starters is a definite improvement over recent efforts. Both sides publicly remarked at how smoothly the process went and it is believed that Fassel had a lot of input into the actual selections. Since Fassel and management do communicate so well and Fassel seems to know exactly what he wants, financial decisions on how much to pay and for how long should be much sounder. Most importantly, the Giants have a direction now. All sides are working together towards the common goal of winning another championship. Nevertheless, for this to happen, the draft record must continue to improve.